Immediately after a British tabloid claimed that bisexual actresses Lady Gaga and Angelia Jolie both wanted to play the Egyptian queen Cleopatra in an upcoming Sony film, social media went into an uproar over whether white actresses should portray the African ruler at all.
Gaga and Jolie wouldn’t be the first white women to portray the legendary monarch: Claudette Colbert (1934), Vivien Leigh (1945), and HIV-activist Elizabeth Taylor (1963) have all played Cleopatra on film, completing their Egyptian look with a simple headdress, a black wig and some eyeliner.
But it’s 2019 and film viewers are more sensitive to racial politics keeping actresses of color from landing meaty lead film roles. But even though she ruled Africa, was Cleopatra herself actually a woman of color?
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Historical researchers seem to think so. Cleopatra’s father was a Greek military general named Ptolemy. But when archeologists found remains of a woman believed to be Cleopatra’s sister, Princess Arsinoe, in 2009, they declared that Cleopatra likely had an African mother.
Using forensic evidence, Egyptologist Sally Ann Ashton created an image of Cleopatra in 2008 depicting Cleopatra as a dark-skinned woman with cornrows.
Ashton said, “She probably wasn’t just completely European. You’ve got to remember that her family had actually lived in Egypt for 300 years by the time she came to power.”
It remains to be seen whether any actress will get a chance to play Cleopatra at all, seeing as Sony’s project is merely in pre-production and may never actually get made. But the kerfuffle over Cleopatra’s skin-color shows a greater sensitivity over white-washing, the common Hollywood practice of erasing people of color from films.
An egregious example of white-washing occurred in Roland Emmerich’s 2015 film Stonewall. Even though the historic queer uprising was led by trans people of color, Emmerich’s film showed the riot being started by a cisgender white man.
Naturally, Twitter users can’t agree on Cleopatra’s skin color or who should play her.
Neither Lady Gaga or Angelina should be Cleopatra. It should be Beyoncé. ?????
— maegon targaryen. (@YExcuseMyFrench) January 14, 2019
I thought Cleopatra was greek (but born in Egypt), maybe she was white or biracial, we don't know for sure
— Andreé (@Gagastan13) January 14, 2019
Cleopatra wasn’t white, it’s been reiterated OVER AND OVER AND OVER AGAIN… y’all just keep choosing to ignore it and choosing these Lilly white women to play her. Y’all act like it’s a crime that Cleopatra was a woman of color. As far as that block, as and you will receive.
— Jordan (@jcolex1) January 13, 2019
So Lady Gaga gonna be playing Cleopatra now? The stunningly beautiful, young brown queen of Egypt? Okay let me just- pic.twitter.com/Agmnoe47Cq
— ? (@evrthingislove) January 14, 2019
Angelina Jolie did not serve these looks for y’all locals to say Lady Gaga should play Cleopatra pic.twitter.com/j5nwbw2d2r
— Carol Danvers is a lesbian (@biCarolDanvers) January 14, 2019
Easy solution for this feuding over Lady Gaga and Jolie over #Cleopatra:
Whoever has the bigger schnoz gets the part #cleo pic.twitter.com/L7Qee8YTk0
— Lil Herodotus (@lil_herodotus) January 13, 2019
I don’t get why this is still being debated. Cleopatra was the last Greek ruler of Egypt, even her name should tell you she was Greek (Cleopatra = Glory of her father). There are several busts, statues and coin depictions of Cleopatra, and in all of them you see a woman with typical Greek features, especially the chin and large nose.
I’m black but history revisionists should get over their ego and leave Cleopatra alone. She was white and she was Greek, end of story.
People need to get over this and try to make up some false history. Cleopatra’s family ruled over Egypt for hundreds of years, and during that time they spoke Greek, purposely not learning Egyptian. She was the first to actually learn the language of the people, according to most accounts. Even if her sister’s mother was black, that does not mean Cleopatra was. The Pharaoh’s had many wives. The idea of corn-rows is dumb as well, there is no evidence that hair style was popular back then. The women would wear their hair in a Greek style, pulled back in an ornate bun.
Let’s not change the facts of history. There is a lot written about her, we don’t have to make things up.
Is this going to be a thing now (roles eyes)? – I want to see Lady Gaga play Cleopatra, but please, no singing as she’s glancing over the Pyramids from her veranda.
Only if Viola Davis plays Queen Victoria in a movie.
If Beyonce played Cleopatra she’d be laughed off the movie theaters. First, because she can’t act. Second, because Cleopatra was a White Greek woman who probably resembled more modern day Armenian or Middle Eastern women. Period.
I second this.
People are also not upset over this either… and black people such as myself not only don’t care, but acknowledge that Cleopatra was likely not black and had more European features, even though there is no evidence of any of it since she lived and died over 2000 years ago
But Lady B can’t act.
That would be my objection. Lady Gaga cannot act. Why not cast Madonna. She can’t act either.
Why do we have to have cis-gendered women play this role???? I vote for RuPaul to play Cleopatra.
That would be quite a film.
Cleopatra’s sister was a sister by a different mother and I’m kind of amazed historical researchers didn’t pick up on that. Cleopatra (technically Cleopatra VII) was named after another Cleopatra, Cleopatra V, who died not long after she was born. Arisone’s mother is unknown so they were actually “half sisters” through Ptolemy.
Also, political figures in art had to have certain features to be taken seriously- it sounds stupid but it’s true. These features were quite masculine because most political figures were men….also quite obvious, one would think.
WE DON’T KNOW what she actually looked like either way. We don’t know if she was pretty or ugly or dark or light….we don’t know where she’s even buried.
Maybe she was bi/multi-racial, however we know that the Ptolemy family married within the family to keep the integrity of the dynasty. Also, knowing that they were from Greece I would think that she was mostly white. At the same time she was one of the last remaining living Ptolemies in a dynasty that had been ruling for almost 300 years, so maybe by her time they had mixed with the local Egyptians. Either way, I wouldn’t mind Lady Gaga to play her, although I think Gaga isn’t the best actress in the world, I’d prefer her focus on giving us some good music.
I could care less who plays Cleo. What’s interesting, as always, are the comments on this article. Of all the comments only one pointed to a fact the article missed. Namely that Arsinoe was Cleopatra’s half sister; making it conceivable that Cleopatra may have been mostly European, genetically. Making it not a stretch at all for Lady Gaga to play her in a movie.
But, that aside, all other comments/opinions veer from how impossible it is that a culture embedded in a foreign land for 300 years would apparently NEVER inter-marry/inter-breed with the native culture at some point to how bad an actress Beyonce would be in the role. Noting of course, that Beyonce has not exactly expressed interest or been approached to play the role in the first place.
“An egregious example of white-washing occurred in Roland Emmerich’s 2015 film Stonewall. Even though the historic queer uprising was led by trans people of color, Emmerich’s film showed the riot being started by a cisgender white man.”
(Credible) citation needed.
Unless you’re referring to butch lesbian POC Stormé DeLarverie. But then you types never do, do you Daniel.
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